The theatre of participation

Blog by Gareth K Vile | 27 Aug 2008

Watching art does not make us better people. If it did, art historians would be renowned for their compassion and sensitivity, dance critics would not go into ferocious rages and, thanks to its comprehensive programme of drama, Glasgow would have a tiny crime rate. Unfortunately, studies have shown that audiences rarely develop profound morality from exquisite performance.

Nevertheless, in a generation of swine where Jordan and Peter André parade their self-mutilation on television, politics descends into a brutal farce and texting is the dominant mode of discourse, the theatre won’t do much harm. In the past month, I have seen Krapp’s Last Tape warn against becoming fixated on failure, Czech dancers explore erotic politics, clowns consider post-communist Europe through explosions and loud music, and contact improvisation explain the Irish peace process.

At the very least, this kept me out of the way. But, according to the studies, art can help our crumbling society, through participation. This explains the first shift in our Theatre pages this month, the inclusion of previews of classes and activities. The additional previews, will hopefully encourage participation - reviews, although still important, have moved online, to provoke debate, agreement and- if my experience is representative - death threats from irritated performance artists.

Like faith in God, my belief in art’s potential is flawed, vague and scientifically naive. However, through engagement, through discussion, through turning up and thinking, I believe that the theatre still has the potential to change. I want the argument to start here.